A few months ago, Star Trek: Discovery truly made a leap into the unknown. Where are Captain Lorca, Burnham, and the crew now? When are they? We don’t know! This Sunday the show returns with answers to these questions, but until that particular veil is lifted, I thought we should reminisce about the 8 very best times that Star Trek, in its glorious 50+ year history, has surprised us by leaping into intriguing alternate realities.
8. The Year of Hell
Early on in Star Trek: Voyager‘s fourth season, the crew meets the Krenim, a species who have managed to weaponize time travel (a quiet but long-standing open question in the Trek universe, since time travel is often utilized across species and shows). The Krenim are bopping around that part of the Delta Quadrant erasing entire planets and species that have prevented them from expanding into a formidable star empire and over the course of the year to come, Voyager watches as the Krenim go from a low-tech planet-state to a merciless expansive threat to the entire quadrant. Voyager eventually becomes their enemy and Janeway and company spend the year limping and hiding and deteriorating in a very dramatic if-we-don’t-profess-our-love-now-then-when? apocalyptic manner. The year of hell culminates in a decisive moment where Janeway kicks everyone off the ship and plunges Voyager into the Krenim’s TimeDeathStarThing, dying like a bad-ass. Everything gets reset to the beginning of the year, the Krenim are quelled, and Voyager now gets to enjoy a much better year waiting for the Hirogen plotline to please just end, finding massively destructive Omega particles, giving birth to their own clones on a Demon-class planet, watching their long-dead crewmates be remembered as genocidal maniacs…um…
Which one was the Year of Hell, again?
Honorable mention: Admiral Janeway New Game+-ing the series finale so she can get a 101% completion rate. (Interesting in a “where is this even going next” way but “Year of Hell” isn’t as selfish and has more fun with its overwrought nature.)
Honorable honorable mention: Grizzled Kim fights Captain Geordi so they can all get their friends back (except Geordi). (“Year of Hell” isn’t as lonely.)
7. Yesterday’s Enterprise
Exploration? The Enterprise is a warship!
These are heartbreaking words to hear from Captain Picard. Not because he’s evil in this alternate timeline, but because in this one war-weary moment, the utter wrongness of his statement sharply defines the appeal of Star Trek, as well as Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s mission as a continuation of that ideal. Humanity is meant to explore for the sake of exploration; to encounter the new and greet it with joy and wonder. The Enterprise is not a warship and if you think that then something is very wrong. Either with you or with reality itself. (In this case, the episode says, the error lay in reality itself.)
Part of the brilliance of “Yesterday’s Enterprise” is in how rapidly it shifts into its alternate timeline. A turn of the head and everything’s different; a life-altering change happening so quickly that you can’t anticipate it, you can only mourn what you’ve lost.
So if this such an effective use of alternate realities, why is it so low on the list? Mostly because a reality where the Federation is at war with the Klingons isn’t all that interesting. (Which also might be why Star Trek: Discovery has literally hopped away from it for the moment.)
Honorable mention: That time Riker woke up in the future and Worf was still there and his wife was a hologram and his trombone was a hologram and everything was a hologram.
6. The Kelvin Timeline
If the new Star Trek movies have taught us anything, it’s that the original series crew of the Enterprise is damned charming regardless of how shiny or illogical their timeline gets.
Otherwise this timeline just kind of keeps…avoiding…its implications. (Vulcan is gone. How do you not follow that up in-depth?) And that’s only going to be interesting up to a certain point.
5. THE BORG IS EVERYWHERE
The implication that Riker’s beard gets OUt oF COnTrOL if the Federation dies is just…the perfect touch.
Honorable mention: All those realities where the crew has to die unless they succeed in meeting Kelsey Grammer.
Honorable honorable mention: That split-second in First Contact when we got to see what a Borgified Earth looks like and it is so terrifying that Deanna f’s off to a backwoods bar in Montana.
4. The Riker-verse
Okay so this isn’t actually an alternate timeline, or even real in a fictional sense, but the Discovery had to go somewhere and Jonathan Frakes directed the first episode back that reveals where they’ve gone, so clearly they have traveled to the universe where Riker accepted Q’s offer and retroactively became God. And everyone in this universe has a beard.
I would watch that. I mean…I’m still paying for CBS All Access (gnugh) so I will watch that. And I will call it the Riker-verse.
3. All Good Things (The Future)
It’s just nice to see how everyone ends up, you know? Not in an overly dramatic way (HERE LIES CHAKOTAY), but with a realism that is respectful to the growth that these characters have gone through in the seven years we’ve watched them. The somewhat mundane future in “All Good Things” also heightens the series as a whole, letting viewers know that the adventures they’ve been watching really have been an exceptional era in the legacy of the Enterprise and the future history of the Federation. (The episode also gets bonus points for somehow demonstrating that Q really truly loves Picard–in his way–and is becoming a better being for it.)
This future timeline gets subverted, but you’re not entirely relieved that it does, and this aspect of the episode works splendidly towards the series’ summation; in pondering the possible changes to the future you’ve seen, you ultimately come to realize, as the characters themselves do, that “the future” is simply a reminder to live in the present.
And so, Picard sits down at the staff poker game for the very first time…
Honorable mention: The Inner Light “timeline” that turned out not to be an alternate timeline but a reliving of events that had occurred long ago.
2. The Mirror Universe
The first alternate timeline in Trek. Perhaps the best. (Perhaps also where Discovery is headed.) Over the decades, in Star Trek, Deep Space Nine, and Enterprise, the Mirror Universe has become a grueling, if entertaining, demonstration of how fearful aggression can smother humanity’s potential for centuries, both through imperialism and enslavement.
Honorable mention: Still the Mirror Universe, but that one part where Vic Fontaine is real.
1. Beverly’s Warp Bubble
You forgot about this, didn’t you?
Of course you did. You’re only real until you pass beyond the boundaries of the universe.
::sigh:: I know how you feel, Beverly.
I know how you feel.
Chris Lough is so glad Star Trek is back.